Jumbo’s Wout van Aert won the opening stage of the Criterium du Dauphine on Sunday afer a hilly 192km run from La Vaulte Sur Rhone to Beauchastel.
Wearing his Belgian champion tunic Van Aert beat Britain’s Ethan Hayter of Ineos and the American Sean Quinn of EF in a bunch sprint to the line in bright sunshine after a showery day in the Ardeche region.
The peloton managed to drop the sprint specialists such as Dylan Groenewegen and Phil Bauhaus 10km from home on this first of five hilly runs, with a time trial and three mountain stages also on the menu.
World No.1 Van Aert picked up 10 bonus seconds for the win and will be wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey on the 170km run from Saint Peray to Brives on Monday, along a route resembling the opener.
This race is seen as a warm up for the Tour de France which starts late June and the 27-year-old has said he will target the sprint points green jersey there.
“This stage really suited me perfectly, and I’ve been working hard on my sprinting,” said Van Aert, who won a time-trial, a mountain stage and a sprint on the Champs Elysees on the 2021 Tour.
On this run through the Rhone valley Van Aert appeared fresh and relaxed after his 20-day training camp in the Sierra Nevada.
“I’ve recharged the batteries,” he said.
His team leader the Slovenian Primoz Roglic finished safely in the pack.